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William M. Hodgdon v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania

March 30, 2011

WILLIAM M. HODGDON
v.
COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION, BUREAU OF DRIVER LICENSING,
APPELLANT



The opinion of the court was delivered by: James R. Kelley, Senior Judge

Submitted: February 25, 2011

BEFORE: HONORABLE RENEE COHN JUBELIRER, Judge HONORABLE ROBERT SIMPSON, Judge HONORABLE JAMES R. KELLEY, Senior Judge

OPINION BY SENIOR JUDGE KELLEY

The Department of Transportation, Bureau of Driver Licensing (DOT) appeals from the April 28, 2010, order of the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County (trial court) ordering that William H. Hodgdon's "record with DOT and/or the Pennsylvania State Police and/or any other agencies be expunged forthwith."*fn1 We reverse.

Hodgdon filed a Petition for Expungement of PennDOT Records (Petition) with the trial court seeking an order requiring DOT to expunge its records of his acceptance into the Accelerated Rehabilitation Disposition (ARD) program on January 3, 2003. DOT opposed the Petition and a hearing ensued before the trial court. Counsel for DOT and Hodgdon did not present any evidence. Each party presented oral argument in support of their respective positions and later filed briefs with the trial court. The following background is taken from the trial court's opinion.

Hodgdon was accepted into the ARD program on January 3, 2003, for a violation of former Section 3731 of the Vehicle Code, 75 Pa.C.S. §3731, driving under the influence, on June 7, 2002.*fn2 Hodgdon completed the ARD program sometime after February 1, 2004.

At the time of Hodgdon's acceptance into the ARD program, Section 1534(b) of the Vehicle Code, 75 Pa.C.S. §1534(b), provided that DOT had the authority to maintain the records of a licensee's acceptance of ARD for a DUI offense for seven years, following the licensee's admission into the ARD program.*fn3 The Vehicle Code was amended, effective February 1, 2004, and Section 1534(b) now provides that DOT is authorized to maintain a record of a licensee's acceptance into ARD for a DUI offense for ten years, after the licensee has been admitted into the ARD program.*fn4

The sole issue before the trial court was whether the former version of Section 1534(b) of the Vehicle Code, in effect at the time of Hodgdon's acceptance into the ARD program in 2003, or the current version of Section 1534(b), in effect when he completed the ARD program after February 1, 2004, controls the time for expungment by DOT of his record. Upon review, the trial court determined that the prior version of Section 1534(b) controlled and that Hodgdon was entitled to have his record expunged by DOT after seven years. The trial court based its decision on its conclusion that Hodgdon had a reasonable expectation that his record would be expunged in seven years, as provided by the Vehicle Code in effect when he signed the document prepared by the Office of District Attorney of Allegheny County, entitled "County of Allegheny ARD Procedures and

Conditions", at the time he entered the ARD program. That document included language that when Hodgdon completed the ARD program, the District Attorney's office would inform the court and his arrest record would be expunged. The trial court reasoned further that in accepting the ARD program, Hodgdon waived his right to offer proof of his innocence and to a speedy trial and that he may waive these rights in order to have his record expunged as promised by the District Attorney's office.

In further support of its decision, the trial court relied on our Superior Court's opinion in Commonwealth v. M.M.M., 779 A.2d 1158 (Pa. Super. 2001), petition for allowance of appeal denied, 568 Pa. 629, 793 A.2d 906 (2002), wherein the Superior Court interpreted the language of the prior version of Section 1534(b) and held that the court of common pleas had the authority to enter an order requiring DOT to expunge a defendant's record after seven years.*fn5 Specifically, the Superior Court stated:

Our resolution of this issue is based not only on an analysis of the complex web of rules set out in the Motor Vehicle Code. Rather, it is based on the reasonable expectations engendered by the ARD program itself. ARD carries with it the reward of expungement upon successful completion of the program. Pa. R. Crim. P. 186. The principal benefit accorded the defendant is elimination of his or her record. Only where the Commonwealth presents compelling reasons for the retention of a record is the court permitted to deny expungement.

M.M.M., 779 A.2d at 1166.

Therefore, the trial court concluded that: [t]o retroactively apply the amended version of [Section 1534(b)] and extend the length of time in which DOT may maintain [Hodgdon's] records results in unfair surprise to [Hodgdon]. Pennsylvania ...


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